Parents Who Promote Less Rigid Lifestyles for Children Prove More Effective

First Posted: Jun 18, 2014 01:43 PM EDT

As opposed to keeping children immersed in a strictly scheduled day that includes school, sports, music lessons, and tutoring, parents should try encouraging their children to involve themselves in less structured activities that promote self-exploration.

According to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, children who spend more time in less structured activities are better able to set and reach their own goals without pressure from their parents. The researchers conducted the first study that scientifically examined the question of how scheduled/formal lifestyles can affect neural development in children.

Senior author Yuko Munakata is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at CU-Boulder. His reasoning for conducting a study on this issue was in response to the ongoing debate about parenting philosophy in the media and on parenting blogs. Are strict parents more effective, or do easygoing parents provide a better lifestyle for their children?

The study included 70 six-year-olds whose parents recorded their daily activities for a week. After compiling all of the information, the researchers grouped the children's activities into two categories: "more structured" or "less structured." Structured activities included chores, physical lessons, non-physical lessons, and religious activities. Less structured activities encompassed playing alone or with others, social outings, sightseeing, reading, and media time.

The University of Colorado Boulder study, "Less-structured time in children's daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning," was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology on Tuesday. The researchers found that the children who spent more time involved in less structured activities exhibited a better self-directed executive function than those involved in structured activities. The self-directed executive function was determined through a verbal fluency test.

"This isn't perfect, but it's a first step," said Munakata in a news release. "Our results are really suggestive and intriguing. Now we'll see if it holds up as we push forward and try to get more information."

A step further in this line of research is expected to include a longitudinal study where the researchers would follow participants over time to see if these findings hold up in the long-term.

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